Girl Talk: A rainbow of your awesome

Girl Talk: A rainbow of your awesome

While we've been banging on about body image/Photoshop/those contradictory glossies for too long now, it is always good to be reminded of one's true value. Ellen-Maree Elliott contributes her two cents.

Picture: Operation Beautiful
I’m 160 something centimeters high (short), 75 kilos (fat) with oily, problem skin (pimply). There are days when I wake up and look in the mirror and want to cry. But those moments do not define me. Why do they even happen?

For centuries, throughout the world, women have subscribed to regimes so cleverly schemed we think it’s “just life.” Wealthy Chinese women bound their daughter’s feet to ensure they remained tiny and “beautiful”. Nineteenth century women CRUSHED their vital organs into tiny spaces using whale-bone corsets.

Today, women of the western world drink disgusting concoctions, pop pills, treat lettuce as a superfood, live at the gym, and restrict their calorie intake as close to zero as possible – all varying degrees of scary – to reach a number on a scale. We put ourselves through agony – some die – trying to live up to whatever relatively short-lived “in vogue” beauty ideal the powers that be throw at us.

“The ideal woman is very thin, generally white, highly sexualised and objectified,” says Lydia Turner, pyschotherapist and managing director of Body Matters. “Women are often positioned [in the media] as passive and vulnerable, by wearing few clothes and with body language. There is also a continual emphasis on youth... on perpetual girlhood.”

Thinking about our beauty is inescapable. We are attracted to, and reward, beautiful people. (Because we think they’re better for baby-making, or whatever.) There are physical traits we find universally attractive: Google it. But a lot of what we think is attractive is Just. Plain. Hype. We don’t have to listen to those powers that be.

There are stronger influences on our lives than ink, paper and pixelated images. There are more valuable human traits than face symmetry, height and weight. What are paper dolls compared to the exquisite beauty of a friend? What are gazelle-like legs compared to the kindness of a stranger gifting you a pen for the crossword puzzle? (Random act of kindness WIN.)

We need to find more substantial role models than swimsuit models in fashion spreads.

“In our society there is too much emphasis on how beautiful we are,” says Lydia. “We need role models who define their own self-worth by many different things, not just one, like how they look.”

People who make us think, laugh and believe in ourselves; who realise being white, thin and “sexy” is not as impressive as, say, being able to play a duet with yourself on a ukelele. (Or just being able to play a ukelele.)

Lydia says family, community groups and church groups are great places to find inspiring people. “Look for people who have integrity and stick to their values, who are confident and supportive; who you come away from them and feel uplifted.”

She suggests trying to find three women who don’t conform to current beauty standards whom you admire. Write down why. [Maybe on a brightly coloured sticky note.]

But, although it’s great to have someone to aspire to being like, self-confidence is about being proud of ourselves. So, for a moment, let’s put away our, “I don’t want to seem stuck-up-ness” and our “I look fats”. Get some more brightly coloured sticky notes. Write down nice things about yourself. Don’t focus too much on looks.

Make a rainbow of your awesome.

Yours Truly,
Ellen-Maree Elliot @ Girl With a Satchel


Anonymous said...

I am officially tired of this subject- Erica I know its a subject close to your heart, but I'm a sit sick of these generalisations about how women are all so weak and impressionable that our feelings about our bodies are dictated by what we see in magazines. I would be classified as slightly overweight, and just cant relate to this at all. I have discussed this with my friends, who feel the same way- I feel like the media goes on and on about how the magazines are bad for our body image, but this doesn't reflect mine or my friends experiences at all. Cant we just STOP TALKING about womens bodies all together and just enjoy ourselves? I understand there are some women who feel the way you do, probably a lot actually, but i feel like this has become a really unbalanced argument lately and just wanted to remind you that not all women want to be labeled with these problems.

Anonymous said...

sorry, me again... apologies for my rant, I guess all I was trying to say is not all women feel this way, and its important to remember that. I feel like women get stereotyped a lot regarding this particular subject.

Erica Bartle (nee Holburn) said...

Hi anon,
I think Ellen-Maree's feelings on the subject are valid, as are yours. Certainly when I was in my late teens/early 20s, I needed to hear these messages. I like to be reminded of them now.
Though I've personally evolved past the point where magazines have the power to make me feel inadequate, I also think that there needs to be messages that counteract the dominant ideals portrayed by media.
Yes, 'love your body' is getting a bit tired. But the important things in life, where real value lies, never does. And for that refresher, I thank Ellen-Maree.
Perhaps this is more about where we are at in life - those of us who've been in the media sphere for some time, in our 30s or older, are in a different place to younger women. But I believe it's our job to nurture them and value their concerns and let them speak, too.
Thanks for adding your two cents.

Anonymous said...

Hi Erica,

Have you thought about writing your experiences into a book? Or is it too much of a daunting task to confront the events of the past? I personally have thought about writing a memoir kind of book, but it's really hard to bare your soul to the world.

Hi Anon,

Maybe you don't read as many magazines as other women. I think the more we are exposed to unattainable media images, the more we are dissatisfied with our bodies.

Being slightly overweight is actually good for you, because the Body Mass Index is not the last word on health.


Anonymous said...

Actually, I read a LOT of magazines, and have since I was 13. I now work in magazines, so yeah, I read a lot of them, all day, every day. Which is why I get so frustrated that now it's seemingly gospel that magazines are bad for body image, because that has not been the case for me at all.

Tijana said...

I really enjoyed that post! refreshing and uplifting... and while these issues and thoughts affect women to varying degrees - some lots; others not all - i definitely think it's valid. Thanks! But yes, some women wouldn't identify with this at all, which is in itself a great thing too.

I don't believe we can 'just stop talking about women's bodies' because that's what's thrown in our face every day in the media via text, images and advertising. When that stops, so will the talk... but will it ever? probably not... all we can do is continue to encourage healthy self-care habits of all forms and appreciate that everyone is beautifully different. These ideas don't need to dominate, but do have a place in our society.

Anonymous said...

I think this is an absolutely beautiful message! Feeling optimistic about yourself and your future and believing that you are a wonderful, worthwhile, “awesome” person is crucial to psychological well being. However, we cannot ignore that it can be just as important to be aware of your faults, especially those that can be changed. It is fantastic to love the person you are now, however, I feel that it is equally important to love the person you could be, and identify paths to get there.
A healthy body image is great, but if you are overweight (or underweight) you are exposed to numerous health risks. In fact obesity is a risk factor for 9 of the top 10 killers among women in Australia.
Feeling confident in your social standing is fantastic, but if you are cruel to those around you, you may not only be hurting others, but also opening yourself up to a lonely, isolated existence in future.
Knowing your strengths is wonderful, but if you feel that you are so intelligent on a subject (or generally) that you refuse to learn from those around you cut yourself off from so much knowledge.
It is important to be aware of these faults about themselves, and to dislike these faults, as it is only then that we can strive to change these. It is only then that we can allow ourselves to grow into the healthy, beautiful, loving person that we have the potential to be.

Anonymous said...

Ok, last commenter- I see what you did there. You said that

1. I'm potentially risking my health
2. I'm cruel to those around me, opening yourself up to a lonely, isolated existence in future (!)
3. I think I'm really intelligent and don't want to learn anything.

However, you sugarcoated it with a thin layer of sweetness. Wow. This is how strong this message that "magazines are bad for us" has become- put an alternative viewpoint forward and you obviously must be a really flawed person. Keep up the judging, and you are creating a lose/lose situation for women- you are damned if magazines are harmful to you and damned if you don't.

Anonymous said...

Last commenter,

I was merely pointing out that we must consider the importance of being aware of our strengths AND those areas which we can improve on. My three examples were not targeting anyone in particular, but were just that, examples. I thought that was clear in my post....
I was simply attempting to illustrate that there can be too much of a good thing, too much self confidence and self esteem can limit your potential...
I feel that it is important sometimes to explore the devils advocate, as if noone does this then our views are restricted.

Anonymous said...

Also, I dont support the argument that "magazines are bad for us" as has been suggested. I feel that magazines can be both beneficial and damaging (although they are most commonly the former :]), and as for "put an alternative viewpoint forward and you obviously must be a really flawed person".... may I quietly call hypocrite?